Guest column: Make SR 169 better for salmon — and people

By Rowland Martin, For the Reporter

The first thing to know about the planned asphalt plant on State Route 169 is that it is zero discharge. There is no water outfall into the Cedar River. The entire footprint of the plant is contained and treated. The next thing to see is that opponents raise an issue merely to make it appear there is a connection, when in fact there is none. That is the case with salmon and this plant, there is no connection.

But the biggest thing to understand is that SR 169 itself is the major polluter and salmon habitat degrader in the Cedar River watershed. Pollution takes many forms: water, air, noise, light and visual. The highway creates water and airborne microplastics from tire wear. Dust from braking enters the air or settles and washes into drainage. Sediment from pavement wear. Oil, grease, and coolant from vehicles drips into surface runoff. Highway litter. Exhaust from the 30,000 vehicles on the highway every day. The constant sound of traffic. Light from headlights and streetlights. Each of these things affect fish as correctly stated by opponents. The aesthetics of a highway are the one thing that likely doesn’t affect fish, though in some cases SR 169 concrete and rip-rap is directly in contact with the river.

SR-169 takes up 90 acres of land between I-405 and SR 18 including lanes and shoulder area. The plant operation’s footprint is about 6 acres and all of it is contained. SR 169 runs along the river, the plant does not. The plant has containment and treatment, the highway does not.

There are many reasons to be upset with the current state of SR 169: the traffic; a dangerous two-lane road for too much of its length; inadequate intersections; a terrible intersection with I-405; its culverts draining into the river; among the many. We certainly need SR 169, I’m not an advocate against it. We need both the highway and the material to pave the highway.

Another aspect to consider is EVs, electric vehicles. The one thing about EVs you can be certain of is that they will continue the road, highway, and parking paradigm we live in; demand for roads continues with EVs. EV tires still produce microplastics. EV brakes still produce dust. EVs still will be stuck in traffic. So, the real thing that needs to happen is to improve the roads, maybe particularly SR 169, it’s long overdue for improvement.

It’s time to stop these multi-year campaigns against necessary U.S. infrastructure. It is unjust to make a company go through an exhaustive process taking over 5 years and be subject to the most piffling criticisms all to get an approval from government. Opponents to a negligible-impact asphalt plant need to become advocates for SR 169 improvement. Fix the main problem. Make SR 169 better for salmon, and people.

Rowland Martin is a longtime Renton resident.